Contact: Nick Patience
Last week was more or less bookended with two acquisitions in the e-discovery market, with Autonomy Corp picking up Iron Mountain’s digital assets on Monday and Symantec buying Clearwell Systems on Thursday. Autonomy and Symantec share a market but little else between them. Both are experienced acquirers – having made, collectively, 50 deals over the past decade – but each company chooses its targets and executes acquisitions in very different ways.
Autonomy often buys rivals simply to remove them from the market. Or it inks deals to obtain customer bases or move into adjacent sectors, and it often swoops in on companies at the last minute (as it did with Zantaz in 2007). The purchase of Iron Mountain’s divested business has all four of those characteristics. Iron Mountain was a direct rival in the e-discovery and archiving segments, while it also provided a backup and recovery business, which is a new area for Autonomy. The buyer also netted 6,000 customers, although there is some overlap. Autonomy took out Verity back in 2005 to remove a competitor and picked up Zantaz to get into the archiving space. The vendor is known for being aggressive in integrating companies, which often leads to a lot of people quickly moving on after being acquired, and we expect both people and products to be removed rapidly here.
Symantec’s M&A strategy is still somewhat shaped by its misguided attempt to add storage to its core security offering with the acquisition of Veritas in 2004. (That deal remains Big Yellow’s largest-ever purchase, accounting for more than half of the company’s entire M&A spending.) Of course, that transaction happened more than a half-decade ago and a different management team was heading the company.
Still, that experience – along with the constant reminders about the misstep from Symantec’s large shareholders – appears to have made the company more considered in its approach. For example, it had been working with Clearwell in the field as well as at the product development level for more than two years before the deal. However, we don’t think Big Yellow could have waited much longer to add some key e-discovery capabilities to boost its market-leading (but aging) Enterprise Vault franchise. We suspect that is why Symantec paid such a high premium for Clearwell, valuing the e-discovery provider at 7 times sales – more than twice the multiple Autonomy paid in its e-discovery purchase.
Clearwell had been on a growth tear since its formation at the end of 2004 and the firm helped define the e-discovery space, starting with early case assessment and then systematically moving into other segments of the e-discovery process. We get the feeling that management may have wished to have waited another year or so before being bought. We think they would have relished the chance to turn Clearwell into something substantial and possibly take it public; the fact that no bankers were used on either side indicates that Clearwell was not actively shopping itself around. But some offers are just too good to turn down.